Angel Eve helped cut Aids deaths

Last updated 10:25 20/11/2008
BILL KEARNS
CAPTURING A NATION: Eve van Grafhorst dressed as an Air New Zealand hostess in 1992.

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When "Angel Eve" lived in Australia as a toddler, she was harassed, spat on and had burning cigarettes thrown at her.

The abuse shown by strangers to the small child, who contracted HIV as a baby, eventually forced her mother Gloria to flee to New Zealand.

In Hastings, Eve found solace.

It was a sad irony that a contaminated blood transfusion – the final of 11 that were used to save her life after a premature birth – eventually ended her life, 11 years later. The second sadness is that the drugs used today to fight the disease would have greatly aided Eve's battle.

But as Rachael Le Mesurier, executive director of the New Zealand Aids Foundation, said yesterday, Eve's short life has played a large part in raising awareness of the disease.

"Those New Zealanders who were around at the time will recall Angel Eve . . . people have kept her story alive," she said.

"Eve and others are people that the Aids Foundation very much hold in our hearts, about ensuring that our passion for stopping any new HIV transmissions . . . to make sure that a preventable disease is prevented."

It is a sentiment shared by Eve's mother, who has dedicated online candles to her daughter on the International Aids Candlelight Memorial website.

"Thank you so much for all you have done and still do," she wrote.

Another dedication reads: "From a Kiwi forever thankful you opened our eyes."

Figures from the Aids Epidemiology Group at Otago University show that nearly 3000 people have been diagnosed with HIV in New Zealand since the epidemic began 23 years ago. HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, can develop into Aids when the virus attacks the immune system. It is most commonly contracted through sexual intercourse.

Ms Le Mesurier said anti- retroviral treatments, available in New Zealand since 1997, had resulted in a rapid drop in the number of people dying of Aids.

"That's an extraordinary success. If those treatments had been available for Eve, it would have been highly unlikely for her to have progressed to Aids in the way she did."

About 85 Kiwis would have died of Aids the year Eve died, 1993. Now, the death toll is about three or four a year. "We recognise that there was a lot of really good things that came from the focus that there was on Angel Eve."

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For now, the foundation plans to continue to "keep ringing the bell". "HIV is still here, people are still becoming infected, and it can still be prevented in the same way that it was preventable back in 1993."

- The Dominion Post

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